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Gen Con Tips for New Attendees

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GenCon-LogoGen Con 2013 is just around the corner and I’m very excited to be attending again. Gen Con lives up to its billing as “The Best 4 days in Gaming” and I have an absolute blast every year. I have been attending Gen Con for over a decade now and I figured I’d impart some advice for new attendees. Hopefully you can use some of these tips to make your convention week a smooth experience.

The Exhibit Hall:

This is the big draw of Gen Con. Almost all of the major publishers are there showcasing their new and popular games. In addition to the major ones, there will be tons of independent guys that will be worth checking out. Most publishers will also let you demo games for free at their booth depending on space. Some will let you play the full game while others will just give you a couple of turns. Either way, be sure to take advantage of this great feature.
The other thing to know about the exhibit hall is that it’s huge. Plan to leave plenty of free time during the day to visit the hall or else you’ll really be missing out. I usually spend hours just wandering up and down the aisles seeing what’s new.
The two best days to browse the hall are Thursday and Sunday. Thursday will also be your best chance to score a new release (some of which will be limited in quantities). Also, the booth vendors will be fresh and have the most energy before the con wears them out. I’ve worked a booth at Gen Con before and by Sunday, I was wiped!

Netrunner Card Game Box
Netrunner sold out ridiculously fast last year. Prioritize your want lists!

Sunday will be the best day to find a good deal. Many vendors aren’t looking forward to hauling all their games out and will mark down some of their prices. The down side is that things can sell out well before Sunday. So if there are any must have items on your shopping list, buy them early on Thursday. Things sell out every year. Android: Netrunner sold out in about 10-20 minutes last year.
Saturday is the worst day to browse the hall. It will be filled with many of Gen Con’s weekend only attendees and the booths and aisles will be cramped. I usually try and get most of my buying done before Saturday and reserve this day to hit up specific booths that I might have missed. If you want to just wander and browse, Thursday will be your best day to do that.
While you are in the exhibit hall, also make a point to check out the Artist Alley. There is some great artwork there (most for sale) and it’s usually not very crowded. Gen Con hosts some amazing artists and I’m sure they’d love to talk with you.

Events:

If you haven’t per-registered yet, do it! Lines at the convention for registration suck and you don’t want to waste precious gaming time standing in a line that could be avoided. As to what to play? That’s up to you. I’d suggest trying new games out. Gen Con is a great time to get in that new RPG you’ve always wanted to try. If you have a game that you love playing, consider doing a tournament. Also, don’t be afraid to try out some off the wall games. We tried Cards vs Zombies last year and had a blast.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the True Dungeon by now. It’s an annual staple at Gen Con and people seem to love it. It’s quite expensive ($44 a person!), but it’s a unique experience. For me, it was worth doing once, but I probably won’t do it again at that price.
If you love to play board games then the board game library is a great spot for pickup games. You pay a fee and you can hang out all day and check games out (of which they have a lot of).
The costume contest is something worth popping into at least. People put together some amazing outfits and it’s a good place to take a break. The event is free to watch and I’m always impressed by the consumes people put together.

Food:

Scotty's Brewhouse
Be sure to stop by Scotty’s Brew House for a great meal and some Gen Con promos.

There is a lot of debate on whether you should go out into Indy and try some of the local places or if you should just do a mad dash to McDonalds between events. That’s really up to you, your budget, your schedule and your tummy.
There is a food court in the mall attached to the convention center that has a lot of options. Last year there were also food trucks (which will be back this year) on the streets outside the convention hall. I’d advise not buying food in the convention hall as it’s overpriced and pretty terrible. Step outside the doors and you will find many better options.
I do want to mention Scotty’s Brewhouse. That place is absolutely worth stopping in for a meal. The usually have convention exclusive dice they give away with your meal and the food is really good. Well worth the trip.
I’d also recommend packing some snacks. Just some trail mix or fruit bars you can throw in your back pack for when you get the munchies during events. Gotta keep those protein levels up.

Manners:

Gen Con Cosplay
Gen Con hosts some amazing cosplay, but please don’t stand in the middle of a crowded hallway to take a photo.

OK, I feel like a lot of the things here should be obvious to anyone who lives in a civilized society, but you’d be surprised at how many people ignore basic manners at Gen Con. Be respectful of your fellow convention-mates and don’t be “that guy”.
Hygiene: My God, please use them. “Gamer Funk” is a very real and gross thing. Don’t be the guy that sleeps in the corner of the convention center and wears the same clothes for 4 days. If you have a hotel, use the shower, be clean. There are a lot of us in very close proximity and we are in the middle of summer. Seriously, I shouldn’t even have to bring this up. But one year people literally posted signs saying “Your hotel has showers, please use them”. I’ve also heard stories of people being removed from tournaments because of personal hygiene. Don’t be “That Guy”.
Photos of Cosplay: You will see some amazing cosplayers and costumed people there. They do a fantastic job and I’m always impressed by them. I’m sure you will get the urge to take a picture of your favorite dressed up hero. However, please don’t do this in the middle of a crowded hall. It’s annoying as hell when traffic gets backed up by people taking pictures and you are late to an event. Step to the side of the hallway and snap as many photos as you like. It’s common courtesy. If you don’t, you can’t get angry when people walk through your photo.

Miscellaneous Tips:

Bring a backpack. It’s great for carrying around books, food, water and small purchases. Just like in high school, you’ll take it everywhere. Unless you absolutely need a roller bag, leave it in your hotel room. The exhibit hall aisles are way to crowded for those things.
Bring Cash. Speaking of the exhibit hall, many will take credit cards. Some will only accept cash. Better safe than sorry. I try to buy everything with all cash as it’s easier to stay in budget that way.
Hand Sanitizer. Bring your own bottle and use it often. You don’t want to come down with a virus from some random person at the con. There are too many people crowded in one spot and it’s easy to use a splash every now and then
Shoes. Wear comfortable walking shoes. You will be on your feet a LOT. A good pair of broken in gym shoes is perfect. I do bring a pair of sandals, but I just wear them around the hotel when we are gaming late at night.
Games. This one should be obvious, but bring some games. There is a lot of open gaming in the hotels and convention center at all hours of the night. Pick up games happen all the time and if you have a game you love, bring it with you. I’ve even met some great friends in the lobby of our hotel just by having games on our table and starting a discussion.

Well that’s all I have for now. Hopefully that can help some new attendees have a better convention experience. Have your Gen Con survival tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.

I’ll be all over the convention, but hit me up on twitter if you want to say hi or find me.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great Post, Tony!

    Few things to add for the newbies –

    Be Friendly – We are all there for one reason – To Have Fun! Game with some new people – you can always game with your old group back home.

    Ask Questions – Don’t be afraid to ask others questions – Most veterans will be happy to help you find your next session, explain how a game works, or why everyone is standing in a certain line

    For RPG players – Not everyone wants to hear about your character – Please, save the character talk for the table.

    There are also great miniature painting areas and classes – I don’t paint but I know plenty of people enjoy it at GenCon.

  2. This is fantastic advice…and much needed for a GenCon newbie like me. Thank you! I’m particularly excited to check out Artist Alley (and to play a ton of games, of course). And about Scotty’s Brewhouse.

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